[News] Revolutionary Transgressions: an Interview With Margaret Randall

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Sat Jan 2 12:53:08 EST 2016


  Revolutionary Transgressions: an Interview With Margaret Randall

by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz 

January 1, 2016

Margaret Randall is a poet, essayist, oral historian, translator, 
photographer and social activist who was born and raised in New York 
City. She lived in Latin America for 23 years. In México from 1962 to 
1969, she and Mexican poet Sergio Mondragón co-edited /El Corno 
Emplumado/The Plumed Horn, /a bilingual literary quarterly that 
published some of the best new work of the sixties. She lived and worked 
in Cuba 1969 to 1981, then in Nicaragua until she returned to the United 
States in 1984, settling in Albuquerque. She spent the rest of the 1980s 
fighting a US government deportation order, because it found some of her 
writing to be “against the good order and happiness of the United 
States.” With the support of many writers and others, she won her case 
in 1989. Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, she taught at 
several universities, most often Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

Randall’s most recent poetry titles include /My Town, As if the Empty 
Chair/Como si la silla vacía/;/The Rhizome as a Field of Broken Bones/; 
/Daughter of Lady Jaguar Shark/; and /About Little Charlie Lindbergh/, 
all from Wings Press in San Antonio. Two of her most recent books are 
from Duke Press: /Che on My Mind 
/(2013), which she calls a feminist poet’s reminiscence of Che Guevara, 
and /Haydée Santamaría, Cuban Revolutionary/: /She Led by Transgression/ 
published in 2015.

Margaret Randall lives in New Mexico with her partner (now wife) of 29 
years, the painter Barbara Byers, and travels extensively to read, 
lecture and teach.

In this interview, Randall talks about her new book on Haydée 
Santamaría, about Che, about feminism, about her years living and 
raising her children in Cuba, about the draconian US immigration 
policies she experienced, and about the possible future of Cuba free of 
US boycott.

/RDO: Why did you decide to write a book on Haydée Santamaría?/

MR: I don’t think I decided to write about Haydée. She has long been 
there, in the wings, waiting as it were for me to take her on. I met 
Haydée on my first visit to Cuba, in January of 1967. Casa de las 
Américas, the cultural institution she headed, invited a number of poets 
from different countries to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the 
great Nicaraguan modernist, Rubén Darío. The event was called “Encuentro 
con Rubén Darío” (Meeting with Ruben Dario, in English), and many years 
later, when the US government was trying to deport me because of ideas 
expressed in some of my books, during my deportation hearing the 
prosecuting attorney accused me of “having traveled to Cuba in 1967 to 
meet with Ruben Dario”–who of course had been dead for many years. 
Haydée impressed me as much as anyone or any thing on that first visit. 
She was a country woman with a sixth-grade education, who nevertheless 
was the only woman who had taken part in every phase of the 
revolutionary struggle. Upon victory, and despite not having studied art 
history or having earned any university degree, she was charged with 
founding and running an institution that would cut through the cultural 
part of the many-pronged blockade being launched even then by the United 
States. She quickly made Casa into an institution respected throughout 
the world, one that brought artists, writers, thinkers and others to 
Cuba, and made Cuban art and writing known beyond the country’s borders. 
Haydée was a visionary. And it wasn’t only how she created cultural 
bridges that was so astonishing; she ran Casa in a highly unusual, 
absolutely horizontal way. For Haydée, inclusion was paramount. During 
sad periods of repression, she protected gay artists and writers, giving 
them a place to work and space to create. I was immediately attracted to 
her energy, her openness, her brilliance. I returned to Cuba, to attend 
the Cultural Congress of Havana, in January of 1968. On that visit I 
deepened my relationship with Haydée. And when my family and I went to 
live in Cuba, at the end of 1969, our friendship continued. I remember 
her once spontaneously telling me: “Get in the car” and driving me out 
to her home. She led me upstairs to her bedroom, opened her closet door, 
and showed me a collage of children’s faces there. Immediately I saw the 
faces of my own four children, in a couple of snapshots I had sent her 
the year before. I was incredibly moved to see those snapshots inside 
her closet. I started suffering from asthma in Cuba, and Haydée had 
suffered from the disease most of her life. That was something else that 
brought us together.

These few personal anecdotes only scratch the surface. My book is filled 
with many more–and also with the much more important story of Haydée’s 
life, her struggle, profound losses, creativity and the enormous energy 
she expended on changing society. For me, personally, she was a friend 
and mentor. In the larger world, she was probably those things for many… 
perhaps almost everyone who had the privilege of knowing her.

When I finally realized it was “now or never” with regard to the book, I 
sent a proposal to my editor at Duke University Press. She loved the 
idea and encouraged me. I went to Cuba in 2014 to do the necessary 
fieldwork. The Cubans were immensely generous. They opened their 
archives, arranged interviews with family members and work colleagues, 
made it possible for me to go to the sugar plantation in the middle of 
the island where Haydée was born and spent her first years. They made 
hundreds of photographs available, gave me films and videos… in short, 
were forthcoming in every way.

The book I wrote is mine, my interpretation of Haydée’s life and 
dramatic death by suicide. I am sure all those of us who were privileged 
to know Haydée has his or her own version of her life and death. I hope 
mine will be a contribution toward understanding a complex and 
astonishing woman.

/RDO: Death by suicide can cast a shadow over the life well-lived; 
however you don’t frame Haydée’s life in the context of ultimate 
suicide. Was that difficult coming to terms with?/

MR: Not at all. Because I knew Haydée, knew the people she worked with, 
knew her life over many years, her suicide never cast a shadow over her 
life for me. It was tragic, yes. And shocking for those who knew her as 
exuberant, playful, possessed of an enormous energy, the energy that 
made it possible for her to take such an important role in so many 
phases of revolutionary struggle, to found and for 20 years run one of 
the most exciting arts institutions on the Continent, raise two 
biological children and many more orphaned by the Latin American wars of 
the 1960s-’80s, and never stop fighting for what she believed in, no 
matter the circumstances. To those who didn’t know her well, Haydée 
managed to hide her deep depression, a depression that plagued her at 
least since the loss of her brother and her partner at Moncada. Those 
who did know her well, understood the energy it often took for her 
simply to get out of bed in the morning.

Sadly, Haydée’s suicide did cast a shadow over her life for the Cuban 
Revolution as an institution. Like Catholics, whose lives belong to God, 
the lives of Communists belong to the Party. This was the way suicide 
was seen (condemned) in 1980 Cuba. And depression was little understood 
as well. Many felt they could only explain Haydée’s fatal decision by 
believing she must have been mad in her final moments. And even then, 
the fact that she took her life precluded the Revolution taking its 
leave of her as they would have another comrade with a similar history. 
Instead of laying her body out and mourning it in the Plaza of the 
Revolution, her wake was held at a commercial funeral parlor. I was 
there, along with perhaps 3,000 others. It was a time of grief and there 
was also an edge of confusion, even anger in that somber hall. Those who 
loved her could not understand why she had not been accorded full 
revolutionary honors. But the next morning thousands followed her casket 
on its slow journey to the cemetery. The people were showing their 

In every interview I did for my book, I asked the interviewee what he or 
she thought about Haydée’s suicide. Most explained it through the idea 
of momentary madness. I disagree. For me, Haydée simply could not live 
any longer. Her ghosts were too present, the business of living too 
painful. For me, her suicide was a final act of freedom. I believe she 
knew her work was done, and that she could leave confident in the will 
of others to carry it forward. And they have. What she created at Casa 
de las Americas remains: the horizontal structure, the respect for 
difference, the inclusiveness, and the knowledge that art is the highest 
form of social change. Walking through the building’s broad doors, those 
who knew Haydée feel her presence. Those who only know her story, or may 
not even have heard it, feel something different: a true space of 
freedom and creativity.

/RDO: This was a difficult time for the Cuban Revolution, Haydée’s 
suicide right in the middle of the 6 months–April to October, 
1980–exodus of tens of thousand of Cubans to the United States, the 
so-called “Mariel boat lift.” During the second half of July 1980, I was 
in Copenhagen at the second United Nations’ World Conference on Women, 
having been one of the organizers of the parallel non-governmental 
conference. My hotel roommate was a young Cuban woman, a member of the 
Cuban delegation staying in that hotel. She was devastated that her own 
brother, a lawyer, had left. Then, the news came of Haydée’s suicide. 
There was a delegation of thirty or so Cuban women at the conference, 
and they were in shock and thought it might have to do with Mariel. Do 
you think there was a connection?/

MR: When someone commits suicide, people always wonder why. What may 
have been the tipping point? Could I have done something? It was no 
different in Haydée’s case, perhaps more intense in fact because she was 
such a well-known and beloved figure. You are right, the Mariel exodus 
of 125,000 Cubans began just prior to Haydée’s death, and I am sure she 
found it unsettling. She must have wondered why the Revolution couldn’t 
have made a better life for those who felt the need to leave. But other 
important events–personal as well as public–also affected Haydée around 
that time. Her dear friend Celia Sánchez died of cancer in January of 
1980. Many said that Celia, because of her own history, was the only 
woman who really understood Haydée and could lift her up when she was 
down. Haydée’s husband, Armando Hart, also left her after twenty years 
of marriage, and he did so in a particularly painful way when she was 
traveling. And she had also suffered a serious automobile accident 
several months before. So, there were many different things that could 
have contributed to her decision. With all of them, I still tend to 
believe that she was tired of living or, better said, could not continue 
to live. Her losses–at Moncada and of other comrades later, including 
Ché Guevara, who had been murdered in Bolivia at the end of 1967, all 
weighed heavily on her. I explore all these possibilities in the book. I 
transcribe a particular conversation a friend of mine overheard two days 
before Haydée’s death, which I believe explains a lot. But I won’t give 
that away here, because I want people to read the book.

/RDO: Let’s go back to the Cuban revolutionary movement in the 1950s; as 
we are well aware, women’s liberation and feminism were not on the 
agenda of social movements and revolutionary movements during that time. 
How is it that Haydée and the other revolutionary Cuban women were able 
to be an essential element of that movement and the ultimate victory? /

MR: This is a complex question. I address it in the book. Not only were 
the 1950s a particularly restrictive time for women in general, they 
were even more so for someone like Haydée who came from a rural 
environment in which women were expected to marry, have children, or 
become “spinsters” who did charitable work in their communities. Those 
were basically the options open to them. One of the first questions I 
asked, when I went to Cuba to do my fieldwork, was why a woman as 
brilliant as Haydée had not gone on to middle or high school… or 
university. I can only say that Haydée was exceptional. She felt 
suffocated in her childhood environment, and was determined to escape 
it. Her younger brother Abel, to whom she was always very close, 
understood her anguish, and when he went to Havana to live in the early 
1950s, he quickly called for her to come too. Several books and articles 
have assumed that he wanted her there to cook and clean for him. I don’t 
think so. I believe he knew what she was facing and wanted to give her 
the opportunity to be involved in the revolutionary movement he was 
discovering. Although there were few women in that movement at the 
beginning, there were some. Haydée and Melba Hernandez were the only two 
who participated in the attack on Moncada Garrison, but others were 
involved in other ways. Once Haydée had experienced battle, there was no 
stopping her. She hated violence, but was determined to see the struggle 
through to victory. In prison, in the underground, in the mountains, and 
outside the country when she went to the United States to buy weaponry 
from the Mafia, she often used what we used to call “feminine wiles” to 
pass unobserved or do what she needed to do. On more than one occasion 
she also said that although she was a very forward-thinking woman for 
her time, she felt that she had to be careful not to act in a way that 
might reflect negatively on the movement–there were so many prejudices 
around how women were supposed to dress, speak, act.

As the revolutionary struggle continued through that decade, more and 
more women took part. As you know, the Cuban Revolution did a lot for 
women, in terms of education, jobs, equal pay for equal work, 
healthcare, and more. It could have done more if it had been willing to 
look at power as a political category and done a gender analysis of 
Cuban society. They are beginning to do this now, but they lost a lot of 
time. In my opinion, Haydée was a feminist before the word was spoken in 
Cuba. She had a natural sense of justice that embraced all groups and 
individuals. She railed against gendered language. On several occasions 
she went to Central Committee Communist Party meetings dressed as a man, 
to protest the male chauvinism she saw. Had she lived longer, I have no 
doubt she would have embraced the most sophisticated feminist ideas.

/RDO: Your prior book with Duke University Press was Ché on My Mind 
Talk a bit about Che in the Cuban Revolution and how did Haydée relate 
to him. /

MR: Che was, of course, a major figure in the Cuban Revolution. In fact, 
he was the figure that most profoundly shaped my generation of social 
change activists. There has been so much talk about Ché over the years 
in terms of his relationship with Fidel… Was there a conflict between 
the two men? Was there room for both in the Cuban Revolution? Why did 
Che go to Bolivia, to a spot so poorly chosen for guerrilla warfare? Was 
Fidel glad or sorry to see him go? And so forth.

My book pays attention to those dramatic–but in my mind ultimately 
secondary—questions, and I do come down on one side or another on most 
of the major issues. But I am much more interested in probing Che’s 
mind, his ethical stance, which is where I believe his great 
contribution lies. /Che on My Mind/ is really a series of meditations: 
poetic and feminist in nature. One of them is about Che and Haydée.

I think they were astonishingly alike, although on the surface they 
couldn’t have seemed more different. Both were romantics whose dream of 
continental liberation was paramount in their lives. In fact, Haydée 
always said that Che promised to take her with him when he went on to 
other lands, and she did not forgive him the fact that he didn’t. They 
were close friends. They shared a certain “purity” if you will, an 
absolute commitment to revolutionary values that seemed rigid to many. 
And both lived their ideas fully.

I think Che’s death in Bolivia affected Haydée profoundly. It may even 
have been one of the things that made her realize she could not live any 

Both books, /Che on My Mind/ and /Haydée Santamaría,/ /Cuban 
Revolutionary: She Led by Transgression/ have long passages about both 
revolutionaries. Of course Che is known in every corner of the world, 
while Haydée–being a woman–is known almost nowhere outside Cuba.

I hope my books remedy that to some small degree.

/RDO: In this same period that you were friends with Haydée, the 1970s, 
you were a single mother of four children living and working in Cuba; as 
such, how did you experience Cuban society during that time?/

MR: I wasn’t really a single mother by then. I was living with Robert 
Cohen, a US American poet who was the father of my fourth child, my 
daughter Ana. He assumed the joy and responsibility of fathering the 
other three as well. And Sergio Mondragón, who was Sarah and Ximena’s 
father, also loved all the kids. He came to Cuba a couple of times 
during that decade, to visit them.

But in some ways you are right. I had given birth to my oldest, my son 
Gregory, on my own in New York in 1960. He came with me to Mexico, where 
we lived in the 1960s, during which time he accepted Sergio as his 
father, and later also Robert. (Gregory’s biological father, with whom 
he would develop a relationship later in life and one that lasted until 
his progenitor died, was the US poet Joel Oppenheimer.) So I was 
certainly the “constant” in my children’s lives.

Your question is particularly interesting in the context of parental 
roles among revolutionaries of the era. We were all deeply involved in 
trying to create a new society, one that would be more just in terms of 
national independence, class and race relations, and–at least in our 
discourse–also as regarded gender. This was long before LGBTQ issues 
were raised, of course. Gender was raised, but as I say, more in 
discourse than in our day to day lives.

But I discovered feminism in Mexico, at the end of my time there, when 
the first articles from US and European feminists began to appear. One 
of those was your own, Roxanne, “Motherhood: Fragments of an 
Autobiography,” and I included it along with other texts in a small book 
I prepared for Siglo XXI Editores, called /Las mujeres/. Feminism wasn’t 
academic theory to me, but something to be lived. I needed it.

And so, when I got to Cuba at the end of 1969 I was already trying to 
incorporate feminist values into my family life. This meant that my 
mothering was circumscribed in two ways: as a revolutionary involved in 
trying to make the world a better place for all children, and as a 
feminist who demanded from my partner equal involvement in household 
tasks, and wanted to imbue my children with those values as well–my son 
as well as my daughters.

The Cuban Revolution, on the other hand, although promoting change in 
many important areas, rejected feminism as bourgeois and as being 
against the unity of the working class. Additionally, Cuban society was 
still quite old-fashioned when it came to how male and female children 
were raised. So I experienced quite a bit of conflict in terms of my 
ideas and goals. I gave my children much more freedom than most Cuban 
children had, something looked down upon by other parents. Their father 
and I sent them to boarding school, because we believed it was the most 
revolutionary education and of course it allowed us to work long hours. 
In retrospect I believe we put them in those schools much too young, and 
a couple of them still resent it. I can remember discussions with 
neighbors, in which I was all but termed “an unnatural mother” because 
of some of my ideas.

Having said all this, to answer your question more directly I 
experienced Cuban society as exhilarating, exciting, and amazing. I 
loved being part of a project that was making itself from the inside 
out. I felt privileged to be living in a place where real equality 
seemed to be the collective goal. I thrilled to meetings in which drafts 
of new law were discussed, and my neighbors or colleagues and I could 
have input into those laws. I also felt privileged, especially as a 
mother, to live in a society that saw health and education as basic 
human rights, and that was developing an outstanding system of universal 
health care that freed me from worry when my children were ill. One of 
my daughters, Ximena, came to Cuba with a serious ear infection. She had 
had it almost from birth. An operation that would have cost thousands in 
Mexico and tens of thousands in the United States dealt with her problem 
successfully and without any cost to us. My children got good educations 
for the time. Two of them finished their undergraduate university 
degrees in Cuba, and when my son went on to Paris and studied for his 
Ph.D, his professors were impressed with the depth of his knowledge.

The issue of how revolutionary parents may have failed our own children 
is still with me to some degree. And it is with many others, especially 
women (who always seemed to be expected to do more than the men). A 
number of important books have been written by some of the children who 
grew up in such environments. One of them is /Every Secret Thing/, by 
Giliam Slovo (South African revolutionaries Ruth First and Joe Slovo’s 

I think about these things, of course, even today. But all in all, I 
think we revolutionaries of the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s gave our children 
love and a sterling set of values.

/RDO: The second half of the 1970s was a time of developing revolutions 
in Nicaragua and El Salvador culminating in the Sandinista victory in 
1979. Had Haydée and Casa de las Americas and you worked with Central 
American revolutionary writers and artists?/

MR: Yes, very much so. And I would say that in large measure the fact 
that I had so many contacts with Central American writers and artists 
was because Haydée, and Casa, brought them to Cuba. Although I will also 
say that I knew a number of important Central American revolutionary 
writers and artists from my time in Mexico, prior to my arrival on the 
Island. Through /El Corno Emplumado/, the bilingual literary journal I 
co-founded and co-edited for eight years in Mexico, I came to know many 
of them and their work. For example, the great Nicaraguan poet Ernesto 
Cardenal, who would later be the Sandinistas’ first Minister of Culture 
(and with whom I would work my first year in Nicaragua) was someone I 
met through /El Corno/. He published in our first issue (1962). I also 
met Salvadoran Roque Dalton in Mexico, when he appeared at our 
International Gathering of Poets there in February 1964. In Mexico I 
already knew of the work of Guatemalan Otto-Rene Castillo, who had just 
been murdered in the jungles of his country. I translated a book of his 
poems, /Let’s Go, Country/, which came out a couple of years later in 
London (from Cape Goliard). Mexico had a long history of giving refuge 
to political exiles, and there were many in that country during the 
1960s and 1970s. Miguel Donoso Pareja from Ecuador was another good 
friend who, incidentally, recently died back in the country of his birth.

Once I moved to Cuba, of course, I met many more of the brave men and 
women fighting for the liberation of their countries… both Central 
Americans and those from other parts of the continent. And many of them 
were writers or artists. Manlio Argueta became a good friend. Juan 
Gelman and Eduardo Galeano were frequent visitors to our home. And we 
knew many of the Sandinistas, including Doris Tijerino, with whom I 
wrote a book in 1975. (The United Nations had named 1975 The 
International Year of the Woman, and I did the book with Doris hoping to 
bring attention, through the life of a single woman combatant, to the 
Sandinista struggle about which few in the US then knew.)

The list of names is a long one, and if I try to complete it I’m sure I 
will only succeed in leaving many out. Casa de las Américas was, in 
fact, largely staffed by Central and South American artists and writers 
fleeing repression in their countries. The Guatemalan Manuel Galich was 
a founding member; when I got to Cuba he headed Casa’s theater section. 
Galich had been a member of Jacobo Arbenz’s short-lived cabinet. Mario 
Benedetti, Carlos María Gutiérrez and Eduardo Galeano of Uruguay, René 
Depestre of Haiti, and Roque Dalton of El Salvador were all members of 
Casa’s advisory committee. Depending upon how long each of these writers 
had to stay in Cuba, they might hold positions at the institution.

Additionally, Casa always featured visits and traveling shows from Latin 
American artists and writers, photographers, sculptors, and theater 
people. All these events were free, and we got a great education in the 
continent’s artistic tendencies by attending those shows and lectures or 
performances. During my years in Cuba, frequent visitors to Casa 
included Gabriel García Márquez, Laurette Séjourné, Roberto Matta, María 
Esther Gilio and others.

All of the above meant that my life continued to open to the influences 
of what was going on in the arts in the southern part of the Western 
Hemisphere. It was such a rich time. I owe my broad perspective to 
Haydée, and those like her, who battled every obstacle to break through 
the cultural blockade that the United States worked so hard to erect. 
The US waged its war with money and arms. Cuba, Haydée, Casa, et al 
waged theirs with passion, outreach, and enormous hard work.

/RDO: That certainly was my strong impression of Cuba when I first 
visited in 1970, as it seemed the whole world was, or the best of the 
whole world either had been or was or would be in Cuba, so cosmopolitan 
and international. In your recent trips to Cuba, do you find that some 
of this political and cultural vibrancy has survived the past 25 years 
of continued US sanctions along with the loss of economic assistance 
from the socialist bloc countries?/

MR: That’s a good question, because obviously a great deal has 
changed: due to the US blockade, the implosion of the Socialist Bloc, 
the wear and tear of time. But Cuba continues to be culturally vibrant 
against all odds.

And this is not only because many of the world’s most exciting artists 
and writers and others continue to visit and perform and show there, 
but because Cubans themselves have developed a cultural vibrancy, based 
on a creative exuberance that predates the Revolution but that the 
Revolution has been able to nurture and promote. In Cuba there are a 
whole series of “cultural hot spots.” These include, but are not limited 
to, Casa de las Américas, UNEAC (the Artists and Writers Union), ICAIC 
(the film industry headquarters), Vigía (a publishing collective in 
Matanzas) and other provincial endeavors, more museums than any country 
its size can be expected to have, great theaters, parks, and other 
cultural spaces. Cubans love to sing, dance, play music, revel in the 
yearly carnival (which is also the scene of tremendous creativity, with 
traditional neighborhood /comparsas/ and richly costumed 
participants). Cubans link culture and revolution, art and revolution, 
creativity and revolution… which is why I think they will always possess 
a tremendous cultural vibrancy.

In using the words cosmopolitan and international, you’re 
signaling something important. One of the great things the Cuban 
Revolution has done, is making Cubans aware of the rest of the world, 
and its place in that world.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans have gone and continue to go 
on internationalist missions to places around the globe that need 
their services, where terrible natural disasters have taken place or 
pandemics threaten the very survival of their societies. The Cuban 
internationalists returning from those places bring with them an 
appreciation for other cultures, other music, other dances, other 
languages and literature. This too contributes to the cosmopolitan 
nature of a very small island in the middle of the Caribbean.

/RDO: One continuing historical issue, derived, not just in Cuba, but 
the whole western hemisphere under European and Euroamerican 
colonialism, is the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade and nearly 4 
centuries of chattel slavery, with Cuba as one of the longest lasting 
slave colonies. In light of Cuba’s majority Afro-Cuban population, why 
are Cuban political, military, and cultural institutions dominated by 
Euro-Cubans? What were Haydée’s views on the problem of racial 
discrimination, and how did you deal with it while living there? /

MR: I believe Haydée was utterly devoid of racism. At least that is what 
I felt from seeing her in public and private, observing the racial 
integration of Casa, which had many more Afro-Cubans than most other 
Cuban institutions, and by reading her comments on the issue. In /Haydée 
Santamaría, Cuban Revolutionary: She Led by Transgression, /I quote her 
reminiscences in this regard: her memories of playing with Black 
children on the sugar plantation on which she grew up, and how that led 
people to accuse her of “communism” and so forth. In my book I go into 
some detail about Haydée’s innate sense of justice, which led her to 
take an advanced position–in actions as well as words–on all such 
issues: race, class, gender, even her inclusionary attitude toward gay 
Cubans (something not talked about openly at the time).

There are many differences of opinion regarding Cuba’s racial makeup. 
Some consider the population majority Afro-Cuban, as you do. Certain 
scholars say Afro-Cubans make up as little as 12% of the population. In 
the United States any Black blood identifies a person as Black. But in 
Cuba, long before the Revolution came to power, Cubans identified as 
Black, White and Mulatto, with separate social clubs for each group. 
This also contributes to the difficulty in establishing a precise statistic.

In 1975, when Cuba decided to send troops to Angola, Fidel spoke 
passionately of Cuba as a country built by African slaves, and that 
fighting in Africa would be a way of paying that old debt. It might be 
argued that this was official rhetoric, but I don’t think so. Three 
hundred thirty thousand Cubans fought in Angola alone, and more than 
2,000 died there. Hundreds fought in other Black African countries. I 
witnessed the frustration of many who volunteered to go and were 
rejected because they didn’t have the physical or psychological 
qualities needed. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Cuban campaign in 
Angola, named “Carlota” after a slave who had rebelled at the 
Triunvirato sugar mill in Matanzas province in 1843, was genuine and 
meant a great deal to everyone involved.

Having said all this, it is absolutely true that the Cuban Revolution 
has done far less than it should have in dealing with racism. You are 
right: Cuban institutions still LOOK overwhelmingly White, whatever the 
true percentages may be. This is shameful by any standard. Racism still 
exists in Cuba, and so does colorism.

There are pockets within the Cuban Revolution that have always seemed to 
me to be particularly revolutionary–as I understand that word. That is 
to say, more inclusive, more outspoken, more creative, more of a 
reflection of what we all hope the new man and new woman will be. Casa 
was, and remains, such a place, and this is Haydée’s legacy. But there 
are others.

Still, the nation as a whole has a lot of catching up to do. Cubans of 
color have begun to discuss this problem openly, something that didn’t 
happen when I lived in Cuba in the 1970s. This leadership on the part of 
Afro-Cubans themselves, will be important I think, in achieving progress 
in this area.

On the other hand, Cuba’s current economic problems, and the big changes 
it is going through as a result of US world hegemony and the renewal of 
diplomatic relations with the United States, may diminish these 
struggles, or at least continue to push them into the background for awhile.

/RDO: During the 1980s, the United States welcomed Cubans and 
Nicaraguans who left their countries as political refugees, while the 
terrorized populations of El Salvador and Guatemala, US allies making 
war on their peoples’ demands for democracy, were blocked from 
immigration. US government manipulation of political refugee status and 
immigration continues today. Tell about your immigration case./

MR: The case is narrated in detail in my book, /Coming Back to the USA: 
Peace without Complacency/, published by West End Press. My immigration 
case was 1985 to the end of 1989. I returned to the US in 1984, hoping 
to get a green card and then reapply for citizenship. I had 
inadvertently lost my US citizenship in 1967 when, for purely economic 
reasons, I had taken out Mexican citizenship. I was married to a Mexican 
at the time, living in Mexico, with three young children, and my husband 
never had much work. I knew Mexican citizenship would make it easier for 
me to find a job. I told the people at the US consulate that I did not 
want to lose my US citizenship, but they said I already had. In those 
days you could not have dual citizenship–though actually that was just 
beginning to change.  So my predicament all those years later came 
because I had lost my US citizenship and had to reapply for it. But of 
course in the interim I had written a number of books, some of them 
containing opinions opposed to US policy in Vietnam and Central America. 
When I was called in to the immigration office in Albuquerque to be 
interviewed regarding my application, I found myself in a small room 
with a large table on which seven of my books were opened to different 
passages, all of which were underlined in yellow magic marker. I 
answered all questions honestly. I believed I had a right to my 
opinions, whether or not they coincided with US government policy. 
Furthermore, they were opinions shared by millions of US Americans. 
After that interview, though, it was obvious it wasn’t going to be a 
smooth ride. It was then that the Center for Constitutional Rights 
agreed to defend me. In October of 1985 I received a response to my 
request for residency from the INS. It told me my request was denied, 
and gave me 28 days to leave the country. I opted to stay and fight.

I was charged under the 1952 McCarran-Walter Immigration and Nationality 
Act, a law that had been passed by Congress over President Truman’s 
veto. McCarran-Walter at the time listed 34 reasons why a person could 
be denied entrance into the US: these included being a member of a 
Communist, Socialist or Anarchist Party (being a member of a Fascist 
Party was not grounds for exclusion), having “meaningful association” 
with members of such parties, being mentally ill, being gay. This latter 
was an issue for me, because I actually came out to myself as a lesbian 
right in the middle of my case, and began living with Barbara soon 
thereafter. The McCarran-Walter clause under which I was charged was 
popularly referred to as “the ideological exclusion” clause. My 
deportation order stated that my work was found to be “against the good 
order and happiness of the United States.”

As you may remember, I had a great deal of support from many quarters: 
writers, artists, public intellectuals, academia, and lots of just plain 
ordinary people who respect freedom of opinion and dissent. CCR helped 
me establish some 25 defense committees across the country, that held 
raffles, house parties, did direct mail campaigns, had bowl-a-thons, 
speak-ins and so forth to raise the money needed for my defense. All in 
all, it cost a quarter of a million dollars to defend me, not to mention 
our taxpayer’s money the government spent on its prosecution. I received 
hundreds and hundreds of donations, ranging from $5 to $5,000. I 
personally answered every one of them.

I also traveled back and forth across the country during those almost 
five years, appearing on TV shows such as USA Today, Nightline, and so 
forth. I was working full time, trying to bury the PTSD I had brought 
home with me from the war in Nicaragua, living without my children for 
the first time, and fighting my case. I had also discovered that my 
maternal grandfather incested me when I was an infant. And of course I 
had come out as a lesbian. Nevertheless, I continued to write–a number 
of books–and I always felt it was a privilege to fight for my right to 
remain in this country because I knew how many thousands of immigrants 
were being thrown out without the support I enjoyed.

My first trial was in the spring of 1986, at the immigration court in El 
Paso, Texas. That trial lasted four days. Many people came to support me 
in the courtroom, including some of the survivors of the 1954 Salt of 
the Earth Strike (who lived in nearby Bayard, New Mexico), Adrienne 
Rich, Jules Lobel and others. My lawyers–Michael Ratner, David Cole and 
Michael Maggio–were fantastic. But we lost. Then the case wended its way 
up the ladder from one court to another. I kept on losing. But then, in 
August of 1989, very unexpectedly, I won. The Court of Immigration 
Appeals in Washington DC rendered a 3-2 decision in my favor, restoring 
my citizenship at the same time as awarding me residency. Five years had 
passed. I was happy that my case could set a precedent for subsequent 
immigration struggles. But of course US immigration law remains 
outrageously unjust, as we know. Today the boogyman (or woman) is no 
longer a Communist but a Muslim.

/RDO: //Your concern about growing US American corporate and cultural 
presence in Cuba as relations between the two countries are normalized 
brings me to my final question: What other concerns do you have about 
this future, and can you suggest how the longtime Cuban support 
apparatus in the US might play a role if any?/

MR: You know, Roxanne, I have a lot of concerns about Cuba… although not 
necessarily those that others express. Some analysts are afraid of US 
influence, and influence by the Cuban exile community–both economic and 
cultural. I see this influence as pretty much inevitable, as Cuba moves 
toward an economy with a greater market input. But I have a lot of 
confidence in the Cuban Revolution being able to retain its greatest 
achievements, or at least to do so to a large degree: universal 
healthcare, free education, greater equality in access to work and in 
working conditions, respect for other countries, and the 
internationalist solidarity for which the Revolution is known.

Things change. For example, whereas Cuban doctors and teachers once 
worked without being paid by the countries that received them, today 
they still do in cases of natural disasters or when the receptor nation 
is very poor, but when a country can afford to pay for these services, 
it does. Cuban professionals are greatly sought after around the world, 
for their expertise, dedication and sense of sacrifice. They no longer 
go everywhere for free, but the spirit of their collaboration remains 
the same. So this is an example of how some things have changed with the 
times, but essentially remained the same.

Here in the United States, because of the way information (and 
misinformation) about Cuba has been given in the press for so many 
decades, people have a tendency to put too much emphasis on the United 
States and not enough on Cuba. I even see this on the Left. Many people 
simply assume that the US will be calling the shots and our government 
will determine what happens next in terms of the opening begun on 
December 17, 2014. I tend to put more stock in Cuba. I believe the 
Revolution will have to make some concessions, but that it will choose 
them carefully; and that it won’t give in on questions of principle. For 
example, I believe the Revolution will be careful about US companies 
once again wielding inordinate power with regard to business in Cuba. I 
don’t believe that Cuba will give up political refugees such as Assata 

I do believe that our longtime Cuban support apparatus has an important 
role to play. It played a big role in helping get things to their 
current state, although they were a long time in coming. US solidarity 
with Cuba did a lot to free the Cuban Five. Its most important ongoing 
task is to continue to work to lift the blockade, which will be very 
difficult given the composition of Congress. But it is clear that the 
blockade is the greatest obstacle to Cuba being able to occupy a level 
playing field internationally. And even after the blockade is lifted, 
the playing field will hardly be level, because the nefarious effects of 
more than five decades of blockade have been extremely costly.

Most of all, I have learned to expect surprises from Cuba. The 
Revolution has shown itself to be creative and resilient.

/RDO: Thank you Margaret./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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